The Christmas Tree Ship Navy Pier: A Chicago Tradition

The Christmas Tree Ship Navy Pier:  A Chicago Tradition

The Christmas Tree Ship, the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, is scheduled to arrive at Navy Pier at 8:30 a.m. Friday, December 6 carrying more than 1200 trees that will be distributed to needy families.

Celebrating the ship’s arrival will be a two-day event re-enacting what was an annual Chicago tradition in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

This marks the 14th year that Chicago’s boating community has reenacted a treasured piece of Chicago’s maritime tradition.

The original Christmas Tree Ship was helmed by Herman Schuenemann, aka Captain Santa, who came to Chicago from Michigan for more than 30 years with fresh evergreens and wreaths for the holiday season. Then on Nov. 23, 1912, Captain Schuenemann and his ship, the Rouse Simmons, were lost in a storm and sank with a crew of 16 between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, WI.

The Christmas trees, purchased by the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, will be offloaded on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 7 by members of the Coast Guard and local youth volunteers including the Sea Cadets, Venture Crews, Sea Scouts and the Young Marines, following a brief, public ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. The ceremony will take place at the west end of Navy Pier near the Captain at the Helm statue.

The ship and trees can be viewed at Navy Pier on Friday and Saturday. Free, public tours of the Mackinaw will be available on Saturday December 7, from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee will also host educational programs for local area schools aboard the Mackinaw and Chicago’s Tall Ship Windy.  More than 300 young students from the Chicago area will learn about the role of the Coast Guard, the “Christmas Ship” tradition, observe a Sea Partners ecology presentation and experience a ship tour by Coast Guard Auxiliary. Members of the Mackinaw’s crew and volunteers from Chicago’s boating community will decorate the ship on Friday afternoon for the “Chicago’s Christmas Ship” event.

About the Mackinaw

The Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Michigan., was commissioned in June 2006 and has a crew of 60. It is one of the Coast Guard’s most technologically advanced multi-missioned cutters. In addition to search-and-rescue and maritime law enforcement operations, this charitable activity takes place in conjunction with a scheduled ATON (Aids To Navigation) mission in the southern region of Lake Michigan to remove buoys for winter maintenance and replacement with “winter marks” to protect them from ice damage. Additionally, regular underway crew training and drills are being conducted in preparation for the ship’s primary winter mission of ice-breaking to keep commerce moving through the Great Lakes.

For more information on Captain Santa and a film made about his fatal voyage click here.

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